Kentucky is inching closer to a mandatory increase in the dropout age for public school students. As of Tuesday, 92 school districts had adopted the new minimum dropout age of 18, leaving the state only four districts shy of the number needed to make the higher age mandatory statewide.
"And once we reach 96, that would be the 55 percent we need for the policy to go statewide within four years," said Kentucky Education Department Spokesman Nancy Rodriguez.
Rodriguez adds that school boards that voted on raising their dropout ages Monday night are expected to have mailed their documentation to Frankfort Tuesday. Once that paperwork gets to Frankfort, it could push the state over the 55 percent threshold.
Kentucky lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year that allowed each school district to hold a vote on raising the dropout age to 18. The law also says that if 55 percent of school districts adopted the new dropout age, it would became policy statewide.
In the first 48 hours since a new law took effect, 54 school districts in Kentucky have voted to raise the high school dropout age to 18.
Ninety-six districts need to act in order for the higher age to become mandatory statewide. Already halfway there, Governor Steve Beshear says he's confident the goal will be met by the end of the year.
For those districts that do act early, Beshear says they'll receive $10,000 grants to implement programs for students at risk of dropping out.
"Virtually every student I know who drops out doesn't do so because they just don't want to be there or they're just not smart enough to do the work," suggests Beshear. "They drop out because they're just not interested. We haven't found a way to prick their interest in completing an education."
Senate Bill 97, known as the “Graduate Kentucky” bill, passed this year and phases in an increase in the compulsory school attendance age from 16 to 18, amending the school attendance law created in 1934.
Education experts will soon be examining applications from public schools districts across Kentucky that want to become “Districts of Innovation.”
The Kentucky Education Department says the designation allows the districts to seek exemption from some rules and regulations to try to improve student learning.
The idea is to let school districts change the way they teach and students learn with initiatives such as competency-based learning and a modified school schedule.
Seventeen districts submitted applications for the designation. Staff from the Education Department, the Education Professional Standards Board and the Regional Education Laboratory that serves Kentucky will review the applications in May and make recommendations to the Kentucky Board of Education. The board will select the districts June 5.
Districts could begin implementing plans as early as the coming school year.
The House has approved a compromise to raise the dropout age in Kentucky gradually, after previous compromises have failed.
Senate Bill 97 would allow local school boards to choose whether to raise the dropout age to 18. After 55 percent of Kentucky’s school boards raise the age, it would become mandatory statewide in four years. The bill’s advocates say they believe the new dropout age will be in effect throughout the state by 2019.
State Representative Jeff Greer of Meade County has been shepherding the bill through the house. He called the compromise a victory.
"I view this as a tremendous victory for our state, we're sending a message to our young people."
The Senate also agreed to the compromise. This will send a dropout bill to Governor Steve Beshear's desk for the first time in the five years Beshear has pushed the issue.
Opponents of a Vanderbilt University policy banning discrimination in student groups want to enact a law to strip the private school of its police powers if it doesn't change its ways.
The bill sponsored by Sen. Mae Beaver of Mt. Juliet and fellow Republican Rep. Mark Pody of Lebanon was the subject of competing press conferences at the Legislative Plaza in Nashville on Tuesday.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam last year vetoed a bill to do away with Vanderbilt's "all comers" policy, which requires student groups at the school to allow any interested students to join and run for office. Religious groups argue the policy forces them to accept students who don't share their beliefs.
Haslam said he disagrees with Vanderbilt's policy, but opposes targeting a private institution.